How to Become a Registered Nurse

NursingNovember 02, 2023

How to Become a Registered Nurse                                           

Registered nurses (RNs) are an essential part of quality healthcare. The services they provide can have a positive impact on overall care delivery, which can also lead to positive patient outcomes. If you’re considering an advanced nursing career, the RN role will be a vital stepping stone toward nurse leadership positions.

Because an RN’s work directly impacts patients, the road to becoming a registered nurse is a deliberate path designed to optimally prepare you for success in the role. Prior to pursuing the profession, it’s important to understand what the role entails, and the required nursing education and licensure qualifications.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Registered nurses work with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care. Their duties can include essential activities such as preparing patients for exams, recording patients’ medical histories, administering treatments, and using medical equipment. Those in the role can also educate patients on post-visit care treatment strategies, or advise patients on proactive strategies that promote health and wellness.

RNs can work in a wide range of environments. These include traditional clinical settings such as a hospital or a doctor’s office. They can also work in other environments such as long-term care facilities, urgent care centers, private homes, or ​​correctional institutions.

Steps to Become a Registered Nurse

The best way to understand how to become a registered nurse is to explore the typical benchmarks of the process. Each step is designed to help you develop the knowledge and skills to thrive in the role.

1. Earn a Degree

Earning an undergraduate nursing degree establishes the foundational knowledge and basic skills to succeed as a registered nurse. There are two pathways typically considered: the associate degree and the bachelor’s degree. 

Your selection of an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program will involve a minimum of two years of college coursework. Some science and general education studies are usually included, but the focus is on the mastery of technical skills that are a part of registered nursing. Career options open to you with this degree may be more narrow than those offered to nurses with a bachelor’s degree.

Another common route to becoming an RN is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, which involves four years of college or university coursework. Your studies in the first two years will provide a foundation in the biological sciences, such as physiology, nutrition, and microbiology. Your studies in the final two years will include instruction in acute and chronic disease, in addition to a spectrum of nursing courses. Graduates of this program are ready to pursue a wide range of nursing careers, as the curriculum has more content in topics like leadership, research, and health policy. 

2. Develop Skills

Skills requirements for becoming a registered nurse include gaining the analytical and technical capabilities to execute the role’s common duties. RNs should also develop soft skills to promote optimal patient care, such as communication and critical-thinking competencies.

3. Gain Work Experience

Undergraduate nursing degree programs typically contain supervised clinical opportunities as part of their curriculum. Gaining experience in a healthcare setting can further your opportunities to transform your knowledge into actionable skills. It can also help you establish a foundation that makes it easier to transition into the field as a professional. 

In addition to supervised clinical opportunities as part of a course curriculum, you can gain this experience through shadowing opportunities, internships, mentor programs, and volunteering. Some nurses may work as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) before becoming registered nurses.

4. Earn Licensure and Certifications

Before being able to apply for an RN position, you must obtain licensure in your intended state of practice. This process culminates with passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Some states may have additional licensing requirements, so it’s important to research if anything additional may be needed to become a registered nurse in your chosen location.

In addition to licensing, you can gain certification in specific areas of nursing, such as pediatrics or ambulatory care, as you gain experience on the job. These certifications can provide additional validation of your specialized knowledge, which could be attractive to prospective employers. Certifications are typically offered through professional associations.

5. Continue Your Professional Development

Typically, registered nurses start their careers as staff nurses. This provides an environment to refine your skill set and gain experience at the professional level. Eventually, the experience can allow you to move into other RN positions that can provide you with more responsibilities, including more leadership or educator roles. 

RNs typically need to pursue continuing nursing education credits to renew their state licensure on a periodic basis. They may also choose to pursue additional professional certifications as they advance in their careers.

Job Outlook for Registered Nurse

The ongoing nursing shortage continues to create ample opportunities for prospective RNs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 193,100 registered nurse openings each year between 2022 and 2032. Factors leading to this increase include the growing demand for care services as well as retirements and career changes among existing nurses.

Those entering the field are doing so at a critical time. As the U.S. population ages, the number of patients in need of chronic care is expected to rise. Registered nurses will be crucial in developing care strategies that can help patients with chronic care needs live their best lives.

Build a Bright Future by Becoming a Registered Nurse

Registered nurses do more than provide care. They make a difference in people’s lives, and their work can form the backbone of a facility’s day-to-day care delivery strategies. This can ultimately make the profession a highly satisfying and meaningful choice.

The nursing school programs at Fortis, including the Associate Degree in Nursing offering, can be your first step toward becoming a registered nurse. Our programs are designed to help you gain the fundamental knowledge and skills to properly pursue a nursing role and provide the best care possible. 

Learn how we can help you make an impact in an important field.

Recommended Readings
6 Essential Clinical Nursing Skills
5 Ways Nurses Are Making a Difference in Patients’ Lives
Opportunities to Volunteer Your Nursing Skills

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage Fact Sheet
National Council of State Boards of Nursing, NCSBN Examinations
Scripps, 10 Top Health Concerns of Baby Boomers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
WebMD, What Is a Registered Nurse?